Religious education update
The purpose of evangelization and adult education is to invite people into a relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. “That invitation and the foundation and meaning such faith offers is all the more relevant given the isolation, unrest and confusion that is so prevalent in our current time,” said Deacon Phil Lawson, executive director of pastoral ministries for the Diocese of Burlington.
Religious education did not stop even in the Covid-19 pandemic. “Our faith is based on a relationship with Jesus Christ, which is fostered in part through religious education,” he said. “The best way to kill a relationship is to stop communicating, right? And so we can never stop inviting people to that relationship with Jesus and do everything we can to foster that relationship, especially when times are the toughest.”
Parishes used online learning, virtual classes and some in-person (following Covid protocols) classes to provide religious education during the pandemic and will continue to follow diocesan safety protocols.
Every parish should either have its own religious education program or cooperate with a neighboring parish to provide religious education for young people. Deacon Lawson is optimistic that there will be an increase in enrollment in religious education classes over last year, given the progress that has been made regarding the pandemic.
Numerous parishes continue to use the classroom model for educating children in the faith. “However, this continues to decline due to the realization that for various reasons this model has not borne the fruit desired, the renewed focus on families being the primary venue for the faith to be taught and lived and a continued challenge in recruiting qualified catechists for each grade,” Deacon Lawson pointed out. An increasing number of parishes are using family-based religious education programs.
Asked about the lower age at which Vermont Catholic children are making their confirmation, he said that all transitions are challenging, “but we are moving in the right direction, both in terms of giving young people the graces necessary to live a life of faith earlier, while emphasizing that the growth and education in faith are lifelong.”
Meghan Tracy Cade, director of religious education at Christ the King-St. Anthony Parish in Burlington, noted that since elementary-age students are now receiving confirmation, she sees the process more closely of their spiritual growth: “I am very proud of our confirmandi; they strengthen my faith in the future of our Church.”
Adults enter full communion with the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. “There are as many beautiful ways and stories as there are people. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, the pandemic forced many people to re-examine priorities and the deeper meaning of life,” Deacon Lawson said. “And that lead many of our RCIA participants to the Church.”
Evangelization, he continued, is best done one person at a time, which is what Jesus is seen doing throughout the Gospels. It is important, then, to inspire and equip Catholics to be ready to answer questions about the faith and invite others into the life of the Church.
There are many resources available, like Ascension Press’ “Bible in a Year” podcast that has been near the top of the Apple Download list since it debuted in January. “I don’t know that Catholics have ever had so many good and enjoyable resources at their fingertips,” Deacon Lawson said. “And it is encouraging to see local parishes and groups exploring and creatively utilizing them in communities in person and online.”
Cade has been encouraged in the various resources the Diocese has provided. “Deacon [Lawson] gifted me with an excellent series of meditations on The Eucharist. Their emphasis on helping our students to understand The Real Presence has been very helpful in guiding my lesson-planning,” she said.
Catechetical Sunday was scheduled for Sept. 19 this year with the theme “Say the Word and My Soul Shall Be Healed.”
“This is a fitting theme for the year as Jesus offers all of us and the world the healing it so badly needs and desires. Our call is to continue to offer that ‘Word’ to all,” Deacon Lawson said.
—Originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.